Public confidence in the civil justice system would collapse if court orders were not rigorously enforced – however agonising complying with them may be. The point was made by a case, recently reviewed by one of our family law experts Stuart Barton, in which a divorcee who refused to move out of her home of 25 years came within an ace of being sent to prison for her defiance.
Following lengthy and bitter divorce proceedings, the woman had been ordered to quit the home where she brought up her children so that it could be sold and the proceeds divided between her and her ex-husband. A writ of possession was eventually issued and she was compelled to leave by bailiffs. However, she returned to the property a few weeks later and had remained there since.
As a last resort, the husband launched committal proceedings against her. He said that he had no wish to see her jailed, but the High Court noted that more than just his private concerns were in play. Those who choose the court process to resolve their differences are entitled to expect that obedience to judicial orders will be enforced to the hilt and, if necessary, by imprisonment.
The Court noted that the wife, aged in her 50s, had never previously been in trouble with the law. She was suffering from stress and was clearly struggling to move on from her divorce. The Court imposed a six-week jail term but was prepared to suspend the sentence for 15 months. That would afford her sufficient time to clear the house of her possessions and ready it for the market.